The trend of youth unemployment in Nigeria is startling and the trajectory is unlikely to change anytime soon unless a drastic and holistic approach is taken. It is a problem that requires a collective effort by education providers and managers, employers of graduates and young people.
In this article, we look at youth employability, graduates’ path to employment, the challenges that stand in their way, and likely tailored solutions that will address the challenges of collective success for youth, suppliers and managers of education and the economy in general.
Nigeria’s unemployment rate is generally high – one of the highest in the world, and has been steadily getting worse of late. More worrying, however, is the youth unemployment rate, which at the last count by the National Bureau of Statistics was estimated at 42%. That’s about nine percent above the national average. Unquestionably, youth unemployment in Nigeria is twofold. The general notion of youth unemployment is a lack of jobs. However, although we can identify the lack of jobs as a causal factor on the demand side, we notice that many employers complain about the difficulty in finding the right candidates to fill entry level positions.
What are the challenges for young people getting jobs? Simple: Employers are looking for skill sets in the workplace that many young people don’t have despite their years of high school and post-secondary education.
The journey from education to employment has changed from what it was a few decades ago. Our academic programs, at best, prepare graduates for further education, but not for the challenges of the working world. Beyond higher education, securing jobs involves developing the right skills.
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Unfortunately, the development of skill sets or on-the-job skills acquisition is not yet a daily staple in this journey from education to employment in Nigeria. Social prejudice about vocational training has fueled the reluctance of young people to follow job readiness programs after higher education. We also see a lack of collaboration between education providers and managers and employers. This trio operates in different worlds without strong collaborations or alliances, making it difficult for them to take ownership of the challenge and forge collective action. Some employers don’t have a strong business case for pursuing placement programs for students and graduates. More so, graduates do not have enough incentives and motivation to prepare for work. How then to meet these challenges for the collective success of young people, providers and managers of education and the economy? What specific interventions can be used to improve employability.
Interventions with young students:
Education providers and managers should keep in mind the expected ultimate outcomes of education: ensuring graduates are employable and generating a correlated return on investment. To achieve these goals, an overhaul of school curricula is needed. This can only be achieved when education providers and managers work closely with employers in the sector to gain informed knowledge of workplace expectations. When this knowledge gap is filled, schools can shape the curriculum and begin to move forward.
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In addition to acquiring academic knowledge, while young people are still in school, they need exposure to workplace experience for practical applications of classroom teachings. Again, education providers need to work with employers to provide internships for students to apply theory to practice and learn what life after school is like. Employers can leverage early recruiting opportunities to acquire talent by identifying students with high performance prospects. Such practices will in turn motivate students to work hard for possible after-school placement offers.
Interventions with graduates:
At this stage, interventions should focus on building skill sets and job skills. This requires the essential participation of stakeholders, especially employers, industry associations, managers of the economy, non-governmental agencies and donors. Interventions such as graduate internships, graduate training, and boot camps are practical approaches. Given the enormous challenge of youth employability, end-of-study internships designed to recruit young people on a large scale will have more impact. However, this can only be achieved with the collective effort and involvement of all stakeholders. Programs should prioritize soft skills such as communication skills, personal effectiveness, teamwork, planning, organizational skills, critical thinking, and innovative thinking, among others.
As an alternative approach, boot camps are gaining more acceptance and recognition, especially in the tech industry. By following this path, the challenge of youth employability can be significantly addressed. The boot camp approach involves graduates undergoing intensive and powerful training on a combination of soft skills in a short period of time, say two weeks. Whether it’s an internship or boot camp, the missing piece of the huge puzzle that shouldn’t be overlooked is mentoring.
Any career readiness program should connect graduates with industry leaders who will provide mentorship and valuable career advice. Collectively, stakeholders need to probe the economic benefits of graduate internship programs to change existing social biases and influence misguided behavioral trends.
Other pre- and post-work preparation interventions:
Even after young people have acquired relevant skills, they need to be able to access job information. There is an urgent need for an employment information office to provide this access to vital information. The employment information office will also gather employment facts and statistics. In addition to helping graduates acquire information on existing vacancies, the office will provide information on vital topics such as rare and high-attrition jobs, thereby guiding students while making a career choice. The employment information office will also monitor existing interventions on employability and unemployment in the sector, identifying gaps that have been filled and those that remain to be filled.
After graduation, schools still have an important role to play. They must set up a career center that can meet the particular needs of graduates as they transition into employment. Counseling and vocational guidance are always indispensable interventions for graduates and students alike.
Employability in Nigerian companies is a big challenge that cannot be solved with a one-size-fits-all approach. Interventions must be planned to respond to the different situations facing the employability of young people. More importantly, education providers and managers, employers of graduates and students must work together to meet the challenge of employability.
Ms. Obi Ibekwe is the CEO of EnterpriseNGR, a professional advocacy group. It is an independent Nigerian financial and professional policy and advocacy group established with the aim of promoting and defending Nigeria’s financial and professional services sector, with a view to transforming Nigeria into the premier center of financial services in Africa.